• Jennifer Wong

Embrace the awkward: How to get good at chatting on the phone



Most of us are using the phone and video chat more than ever.


But simply calling doesn't mean we're always connecting, says Michelle Lim.


A psychologist and scientific chair at the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness, Dr Lim says loneliness is about feeling disconnected, even when you have people around you.


To ward off loneliness, she says we've got to learn to connect and communicate in ways we might not have done before.


"We have to put in the extra effort. It's not going to just come naturally," she says.


"We have to cut down on face-to-face interactions. [But that] doesn't mean we can't replace them, to a degree.


"It's not the same, but it can hold us for a while."

Embrace the awkward of video and phone chat


Lottie Hayes is used to only being able to connect with her family through technology.


The 29-year-old lives in Melbourne, while her family are in the UK.


"There's that increased feeling of anxiety, because … we can't physically get back right now," she says.


Living in different time zones means Lottie can't jump on the phone whenever she feels like a chat with her mum, but says scheduling group chats helps her feel connected when calls aren't practical.


"Stuff like WhatsApp and social media becomes the key to feeling like you're still part of each other's day-to-day lives," she says.


When she does call home, Lottie prefers video chat so she can read body language and facial expressions.


"I get a good chat with one of [my family members] … or quite often passed around the lot of them, I'd say once a month. Which is actually nowhere near as much I thought we would need," she says.


Lottie's main tip for those of us not used to communicating over distance is to know there will be times you feel silly, but to just go with it.


"Embrace it and live with what might at times feel awkward. Digital stuff is never perfect. Your call doesn't have to perfect either."


Quality of connection over quantity of calls


Lottie has found that putting pressure on trying to connect with family in different time zones more than once a month has created a lot of stress.


Dr Lim acknowledges this may be the case for many people.


While many of us are feeling like we should be spending hours on video chats and calling everyone we know daily, she says we need to be realistic with what we can do and actually want to do.


In short: if you can't face phoning every member of your family, you don't have to.


"All connections and relationships are worth keeping open, it's just a matter of how much investment and how much time [you give to each]," she says.


    "It's OK sometimes to put some on hold and some at the forefront. You have a limited amount of emotional resources."


Dr Lim says you should work out what sort of relationship you have with someone normally, then find what its digital equivalent is.


If you only see Aunt Dot once a year at Christmas, you can give her one call to check on her, but not feel you need to speak to her every day.


If you see your mates once a week for a board game, you could arrange to play over video chat or find an online game you can play together.


Don't try to solve problems, just listen


Rachel Bowes, head of Crisis Services at Lifeline, says active listening helps to build a sense of connection — whether you're talking on the phone, face to face or even just emailing.


"Ask lots of open questions and be interested in what they are saying," she says.


"[Active listening] means you're not just listening to respond, you're actually listening to understand."


It's OK to have a gap in the conversation, or to say "I don't know what to say to that". Reflecting back to them how their news makes you feel can be enough of a response, Ms Bowes says.


When someone shares their problems or feelings, our instinct is often to provide solutions.


But Ms Bowes says that's not what most people want from you.


"They're not really looking to us to solve their problems," she says.


"They're grateful for the opportunity to verbalise what otherwise might be internal."


If the person you're talking to is struggling with everything going on right now, just let them tell you about it.


Ms Bowes says simply knowing other people are also struggling can be helpful. In fact, she says sometimes not having an answer can be most useful.


"It's reassuring for other people that we also don't know, we also have that sense of uncertainty."


Focus on the good


And when you do call someone, try not to just talk about coronavirus.


"We are so focused on all this negative news, and we should be sad about what's going on, but there are also things we can be grateful for," Dr Lim says.


"Start [the conversation] with what's good rather than what's bad.


"What's a positive part of someone's day?"


Article from ABC Life

 

Sunbury, VIC 3429

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